Shirley McLaren has lived a big life so it's no surprise she made a splash in this week's Australia Day Honours.
She and her son Noel McLaren were both honoured in the same list revealed on Tuesday, Australia Day, something that must be a rare, if not unique, occurrence.
Ms McLaren, an 88-year-old former Women's Royal Australian Air Force drill sergeant and Canberra preschool assistant, was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) for service to veterans and their families, and to the community.
Her son Noel, 59, of Theodore, received in the same honours the Australian Fire Services Medal for his more than 30 years with ACT Fire and Rescue, most recently in training and development.
"It's unbelievable, it really is. Totally blown away," Noel said, of receiving the honour in the same list as his mum.
Shirley might be also recognisable to many as Shirley M in the ABC hit series Old People's Home for 4 Year Olds.
She now lives on Sydney's northern beaches at the ANZAC Village, Narrabeen, her health forcing her from Canberra to warmer climes.
"Lost for words," was her reaction to the mother-and-son honours. "I'm so proud. I'm so proud of him."
Shirley raised her three children, Debbie, Lance and Noel, alone after her husband Roy died of a heart attack aged just 39 while a serving officer in the RAAF in Melbourne.
The couple had originally met at a dance at the Albert Hall when Shirley came to Canberra to train recruits for the Women's Royal Australian Air Force at Fairbairn, the outbreak of the Korea War in 1950 leading to the reformation of the WRAAF.
The couple was engaged before Roy was sent to Korea and after they married had postings in Williamtown, Malaysia, Richmond, South Australia and Melbourne.
When Roy sadly died in 1972, Shirley moved their three children from Melbourne to Canberra because it was more affordable than her original plan of Sydney.
They built a home in Flynn just as Belconnen was taking shape, and moved in in mid-1973. Shirley said her saving grace was securing a job as an assistant in preschools across Canberra as she faced life without her husband.
"It was totally, totally overwhelming," she said. "But, I tell you what, throw a young woman with three children in a deep whirlpool like that and she will come up fighting and very, very strong. You have to. You just have to survive."
Shirley has continued to support veterans and their families in the intervening years, including as coordinator of the Northern Beaches War Widows' Guild.
She is excited for the 70th anniversary this week of the reformation of the WRAAF, on January 29, 1951, when she was among the first intake. She is also president of the ex-services women at the village, patron of the Sydney WRAAF and an RSL sub-branch "Angel", who meets and greets members as they arrive for meetings.
"Mine is sometimes the first smile they see for the day," she said.
Last year, she was awarded an Air Force Gold Commendation for superior achievement.
Shirley has also had to endure virtual lockdown or lockdown since coronavirus hit last March, her hope of travelling interstate cruelled by the northern beaches outbreak late last year.
Shirley said her time on Old People's Home for 4 Year Olds was magical, a social experiment of children immersing themselves in the lives of retirement village residents.
"Such good fun," she said.
"The children were so thoughtful and so caring."
Shirley was even chosen to represent the show when it won the Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts (AACTA) award for best documentary or factual program in 2019.
Debbie, who lives in Melbourne, said her mum was "really strong and resilient".
Noel, who still lives in Canberra, was equally proud of his mum and his long service with the ACT fire brigade.
"It's been fantastic," he said, of his career. "If I had to do it all over again, I would."